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Sam Bass, the Train Robber 

The Life of Texas' Most Popular Bandit 
Harvey N. Castleman 






Sam Bass, the Train Robber 

The Life of Texas' Most Popular Bandit 
Harvey N. Oastleman 

Copyright, 1944 
By E. Haldeman-Julius 


Printed in the United States of America 



To a boy brought up in the Middle West 50 years ago-, Jesse James 
was the only top-flight bandit in the world. The story of the James 
boys, even today, yields nothing to the legends of Robin Hood, Dick 
Turpin or Claude Duval. But to a boy of the same vintage who was 
reared in Texas, even Jesse James was nothing in comparison to the 
splendid figure of Sam Bass, who "whupped the Texas Rangers" in 
the old ballad. Hundreds of pilgrims still visit his grave at Round 
Rock every year. Men have come from all parts of the United States, 
and from several foreign countries, to dig for gold that Bass is said to 
have buried. There are boys in Texas today who can recite the whole 
history of Sam Bass, boys who have scarcely heard of Sam Houston or 
even "Big Foot". Wallace! Texas is still full of old men who claim to 
have. known Bass well, and perhaps some of them really did know him. 

One of the strange things about this great Texas hero is the fact 
that he was not a Texan, or even a Southerner. He came down from 
the North, at a time when Northern men were not highly regarded in 
Texas. It has been said that Sam Bass was the first Yankee to become 
popular in Texas after the Civil War. Some have even ' intimated that 
Bass was the only Yankee to become popular in Texas, but this latter 
crack is not intended to be taken seriously. 

Sam Bass was born on a farm near Mitchell, Indiana, on July 21, 
1851. He was one of a large family, and his father was a prosperous 
farmer. The mother died when Sam was a child, and one of the older 
brothers was killed at the battle of Richmond, in 1862. His father died 
in 1864, and Sam went to live with his Uncle Dave. Dave Sheeks was 
one of t the richest men in the neighborhood, who owned large farms and 
sawmills, but he worked Sam terribly hard, and gave him no schooling. 
Sam learned to read "a few short words," but he was never able to write 
much, although he could sign his name after a fashion. 

Most of the talk Sam heard at his uncle's place was concerned with 
politics, but he took little interest in such matters. Of much greater 
importance, to his 14-year-old mind, were the doings of the Reno gang, 
a band of robbers who became notorious all through Indiana and Illinois 
in the middle 1860's. These desperadoes looted banks, stuck up stages, 
and robbed trains. They took $90,000 from, an express car only a few 
miles from Dave Sheeks' home, and $90,000 was a tremendous sum of 
money in those days. Most of the Reno boys were captured and lynched, 
but it was the cleverness of their earlier exploits that impressed young 
Sam Bass. 

For nearly five years Sam lived with Uncle Dave, and worked 
hard every day, but he never was paid anything more than his board 
and lodging, with a yearly suit of homespun clothes. Finally Sam 
announced that he was 18 years old now, and doing a man's work, 
therefore he ought to have a hired man's wages. At least he should 
have a horse to ride, and a little spending money on -Saturday. 
Uncle Dave flew into a rage, and struck at Sam with a chair. Sam 
dodged, and a few minutes later he walked out of his uncle's house for- 

)e a cowboy," said ne, "or an Indian fighter 
like Daniel Boone. Or maybe," he added softly, "I'll take up robbin' 
folks, like them) Reno boys done!" 

Sam knew that a ticket to St. Louis would cost nearly $10, and he 
did not have that much money. Just how he got to St. Louis we do not 
know, but he was there in a few days. It was the first big city Sam 
had ever seen, but he evidently did not stay there long. Probably he 
could not get any kind of a job in St. Louis. We next hear of him at 
Rosedale, Mississippi, where he worked in a sawmill for about a year. 
He understood that kind of work, because Uncle Dave had operated a 
similar sawmill back in Indiana. 

Not much is known about Sam's life in Rosedale. Wayne Gard, 
whose book Sam Bass is the best biograhpy that has yet appeared, 
tells us that "Sam had acquired a measure of skill at cards and had 
learned to handle a six-shooter, but he had gained little else from his 
stay ill' Mississippi." Men who knew Sam have said that he was a 
very poor poker-player, but there is no doubt that he was a good pistol 
shot. He left Mississippi on horseback when he was about 19, and it 
seems that he must have earned enough money to buy a horse and 
saddle. It is possible that he stole the horse, of course, but there is 
no record of it. As far as is known, Sam had never been in trouble 
during his residence at Rosedale. 

It must have been in "1870 that Sam started out for Texas, riding 
along with a family named Mays, who traveled in a prairie schooner. 
It was a long, leisurely journey, and they stopped for some time at Hot 
Springs, Arkansas, which was already a well-known health resort. The. 
travelers fared well, as there was plenty of game all along the way, 
and Mrs. Mays was a fine cook. It was in the Fall when they finally 
drove into Denton, Texas. Here Sam left the Mays party, and got a 
job on a ranch about 15 miles south of Denton. 

A full-fledged cowboy at least, Sam found that he could ride well 
enough to hold the job, but he had no experience in roping cattle. He 
worked hard and got along all right, but soon realized that the life of 
a cowpuncher is not so romantic as it has been cracked up to be. His boy- 
hood dream of becoming an Indian fighter faded too, when he saw seven 
freighters who had been killed by the Kiowas. The bodies of these men 
were naked, burned in many places, and stuck full of arrows. "Their 
private parts," says one chronicler, "had been cut off and stuck in their 
mouths," and there were other mutilations too unpleasant to be set down 
here. The sight of these naked twisted corpses impressed Sam Bass 
with the idea that Indian-fighting is a profession for specialists, and not 
a good field for dilettantes or amateurs. 

Disillusioned about the life of a cowboy, Sam went into Denton and 
worked a while in the stables of the Lacey House, the best hotel in 
town. Next he got a job as handyman with W. F, Eagan, sheriff of 
Denton county. Sam took care of the Eagan horses, milked two cows, cut 
stove-wood, arid split rails to be used in making fences. Later on Eagan 
went into the freighting business on the side, since there was no rail- 
road in Denton, and everything had to be hauled at least 50 miles by 
wagon. Sam: drove one of Eagan's teams, and made many trips to Dallas 
and Fort Worth. W. P. Webb who devotes a chapter of his book 
The Texas Rangers to Sam Bass, has this to say: "It was said that the 
young man was so thrifty and economical that he never paid more than 
$5 for a suit of clothes, and that when Dad Eagan sent him to Dallas 

to transact 

and himself on short rations." 

So far as is known, Sam ha-d no regular communication with his 
relatives back in Indiana. But when his sister wrote him that two of 
his brothers contemplated coming to Texas, he sent a long letter advising 
them not to come. Texas was a tough place for Hoosier farm-hands. Sam 
could not write the letter himself, but he dictated it to a neighbor boy 
named Charlie Brim, and signed SAM BASS in great sprawling capitals 
at the bottom of the page. It must have been a pretty good letter, 
since it frightened the boys so that they gave up the idea of making 
the Texas pilgrimage. 

Sam was a grown man now. He was 5 feet 6 inches tall, muscular 
and well built, but a little stooped, which made him look older than he 
really was. He had black hair and black eyes, which gave rise to a com- 
mon report that he was part Indian. People who knew him at this 
period remember that his speech set him apart from the other young- 
men; Sam still spoke the nasal dialect of rural Indiana, very different 
from; the soft drawl of the Texans. But Sam talked little, so that his 
accent didn't matter much. He was usually unshaven and always badly 
dressed. It appears that he had little to do with women, and small 
interest in his personal appearance. He liked to play cards, but seemed 
to be more interested in good horses than anything else. 

Sam attended all the races at Denton. The standard distance in 
those days was the quarter mile, and the quarter-horses always ran on 
a straight track. The horse-players of Denton had established one of 
these tracks on the prairie just north of the village. There were no 
seats or grandstands ' for the spectators, since the boys all came out on 
horseback anyhow, and were content to sit their horses while the race 
was run. Every cow-camp had at least one pony 'which was regarded 
as fast, and such horses were brought in and raced against animals 
entered by professionals. Some of these races were very colorful . affairs. 
Considerable amounts of money changed hands. Fights, robberies and 
killings were not uncommon. 

In 1874 Sam somehow obtained enough money to buy a sorrel mare 
named Jennie — the "Denton mare" mentioned in the Sam Bass ballad: 

Sam used to deal in race stock, 
One called the Denton mare, 
He run her in scrub races 
And took her to the Fair. 

Horsemen have said that Jennie was a descendant of Steel Dust, a 
Kentucky quarter-horse celebrated all over the Southwest. Be that 
as it may, she was fast enough to beat any of the local ponies, and 
almost immediately Sam began to make a little money. Shortly after 
this he. left Dad Eagan, who was not in sympathy with what he called 
"horse-jockeys." From 1875 on Sam spent much of his time in saloons 
and gambling-houses, and associated with disreputable characters of 
one sort and another. There is no record of his ever having any regular 
employment after he left Sheriff Eagan in March, 1875. 

Bass hired a diminutive Negro jokey named Dick Eidson to ride 
the mare, and Gard tells us that "she never lost a race when the 
skinny darky rode her." Henry Underwood, whose main business here- 
tofore had iieen cutting firewood, now turned horse-trainer and assisted 
Sam in the racing game. From this time forward it seems that Sam 

was always in some sort of difficulty. One story is that he and Under- 
wood doped the horses which were to run against Jennie, by putting 
"Injun pizen" in their drinking-water. Also he became involved in a 
lawsuit with one Marcus Milner, who claimed that Sam had cheated 
him out of a race by intimidating the judges. Sam won the case, but 
refused to pay his lawyers. Years later one of the attorneys framed 
a promissory note which poor Sam had signed. His handwriting was 
uncertain always, and the lawyers made merry over the signature, 
which looked pretty much like SAM B. ASS! It is said that this note 
is still in existence, and is now the property of a judge in San Antonio. 

Many jockeys in the Texas hinterland rode heavy stock saddles on 
the track, but the best professionals used much lighter English saddles. 
Dick Eidson rode without any saddle at all— just daubed a little 
sorghum on his pants to help him stick to Jennie's back! Not only this, 
but he dispensed with the bridle too, so that Jennie ran naked except 
for a" rope haekamore. Dick also claimed that the mare could start 
better from a "dirt footstool" — that is, a pile of earth perhaps two feet 
high. Sam and Underwood used to- go out and build up this footstool in 
full view of the spectators; if the owner of the other horse objected, 
Bass would offer to give him a length or two as a handicap. It has 
been said that Dick Eidson was a good showman rather than a really 
fine rider, but there is no denying that he won a lot of races. Sam 
Bass sometimes paid him as much as $300 for a single race. Dick made 
side bets also, besides selling tips to unwary strangers. 

After the Denton mare had beaten all the race-horses around Den- 
ton, Sam took her to the tracks at Forth Worth, Dallas, Grandbury, 
Saint Joe, Waco and other Texas towns. Having won in all these places, 
he went up to Fort Sill, in what is now Oklahoma, and matched Jennie 
against the best horses the Indians had. He won a whole herd of 
Indian ponies, but the savages claimed they had been cheated and re- 
fused to pay the bet. Sam and Underpood went back at night and 
collected the ponies they had won, plus many others that had not. 
been wagered, and headed for Texas. Shortly after crossing the border 
they were overtaken by a marshal's posse, but Sam announced that he 
would "wade knee-deep in blood" rather than give up his winnings, 
and the officers withdrew without firing a shot. 

Shortly after this Bass matched Jennie against a big quarter- 
horse named Rattler, owned by Buck Tomlin of Tarrant county, Texas. 
Dick Eidson was not available when Tomlin showed up in Denton 
with Rattler, so Sam got another jockey, one Harry Hays. Hays was 
a good mian, but he was not familiar with Jennie's peculiarities; he 
rode her with an ordinary racing saddle, and a conventional bridle. The 
idea of using a handful of molasses instead of a saddle did not appeal- 
to Hays, and he would not listen to Sam's advice in the matter. The 
result was that Jennie was beaten. Nearly all the Denton horse-players 
believed that Jennie was a better horse than Rattler, and some of them 
alleged that Hays had thrown the race. Bass and Underwood always 
claimed that they lost a lot of their own money that day, but the 
local boys did not believe them. 

In 1875 Underwood became involved in a street fight at Denton, and 
when an officer tried to arrest him he fled under fire. Then he and 
Bass drifted on down to San Antonio, taking Jennie with them, also a 
jockey named Johnny Hudson. It was at San Antonio that Bass fell in 
with a bartender known as Joel Collins. Joel had been a cowpuncher, 

raised on a ranch near Dallas. He had worked for some of the biggest 
cow outfits in Texas, and had driven herds up the long trail to Dodge 
City and Abilene, famous shipping points in Kansas. He was a violent, 
reckless man who had killed a Mexican or two, but had been acquitted by 
the courts. Underwood had wandered off somewhere, and Sam and Joel 
Collins became very chummy indeed. 

Sam persuaded Collins to give up bartending and travel about 
with Jennie. Collins passed as the owner and -mianager of the mare, while 
Sam pretended to be a stranger. He served as a kind' of shill, whose 
business it was to induce people to bet against Jennie. By means of 
this strategem they made good money along the border for a while, 
and did not hesitate to cross into Mexico whenever the picking appeared 
to be good. This went on for several months, but finally Joel Collins 
tired of the game, and persuaded Sam to sell Jennie to a dealer they 
met in San Antonio. They then bought a bunch of cattle— part of them 
from Joel's brother Joe, on credit— and started up the long trail to 

Collins hired three experienced cowpokes, and the Bass-Collins herd 
moved slowly northward. Weeks and months' passed on the road, and 
the boys somehow acquired more cattle before they reached Kansas. 
The biographers of Sam Bass do not explain just how this happened, 
but it seems evident that the additional cattle were stolen somewhere 
along the trail. They finally got the herd to Dodge City all right, but 
for some reason did not sell them there. Just why they did not sell 
at Dodge City is not clear; Bard thinks it was because the price was 
unsatisfactory, while W. P. Webb says that they went on to Nebraska 
"in order 'to escape som\& inquisitiveness as to title." However this may 
be, they finally sold out somewhere in Nebraska. They got enough money 
for the cattle to pay off the herders, and had about $8,000 left. 

Sam Bass and Joel Collins spent a few days in Ogallala, Nebraska — a 
wild cowtown full of gambling hells and whorehouses— and then hurried 
on to Deadwood, in the Dakota Territory. Everybody in Deadwood was 
talking about gold, and prospectors reported rich placer-mines all over 
the Black Hills country. Sam and Joel caught the gold fever. Their 
pockets were full of money, but the big talk they heard in Deadwood 
made their $8,000 seem like nothing at all. Sam and Joel decided to 
become gold miners, but the ground was covered with snow at the 
moment, and it was too cold to do any digging. They concluded that 
they would just stick around Deadwood for a while. The mercury stuck 
at 30 below zero that Winter, and this seemed pretty chilly to the boys 
from Texas. 

The gamblers got some of their money, since the card-sharps around 
Deadwood Were of a different caliber than those which Bass had known 
in Denton. Joel acquired an interest in a bawdy-house, and both he and 
Sam invested in a worthless mining claim. Finally they bought two 
wagons and tried hauling freight from Dodge City to Yankton and 
Deadwood. All of these ventures flopped, and finally Sam and Joel 
Collins find themselves with no money at all, and still in debt for some 
of the cattle they had driven up from Texas. 

It was at this time that they talked over their troubles with Jack 
Davis, a tin-horn gambler who had once helped to rob a stage-coach in 
Nevada. Davis suggested that, since the gold from the mines was being 
shipped out by stage, the logical way to recoup their fortunes was to 
stick up a few stages. Along with several other ruffians they decided 


in favor of this enterprise, but they were all so poor that they had to 
go out and steal horses to ride before beginning a career of banditry. 
Three of the men got cold feet, however, and one accidently shot 
himself in the leg. Only five showed up for the first robbery— Bass, 
Collins, Jim Berry from Missouri, Frank Towle, and a man known only 
as Reddy. 

It was March 25, 1877, when they rode out to a place about three 
miles from Deadwood, armted to the teeth and masked with big red 
handkerchiefs. The Cheyenne stage came along, piloted by Johnny 
Slaughter, a veteran stage-driver. When the bandits shouted at him, 
Slaughter pulled up as best he could, but Reddy became excited and 
shot him to death with buckshot. The reins fell from Slaughter's hand 
and the team ran wildly into Deadwood. The coach bounced over the 
rocks so violently that two passengers were thrown out, but the box 
containing $15,000 rode safely into town, leaving the frustrated road- 
agents cursing beside the trail. Joel Collins was so angry that he 
threatened to kill Reddy, who fled the town that night. The authorities 
offered a reward for the killers of Johnny Slaughter, but it seems that 
nobody suspected Sam Bass and his friends. 

_ That summer it appears that Bass stuck up seven more stages, 
with Collins, Jack Davis, and Tom Nixon nearly always at his side. 
But they never had any luck, and got nothing but a few gold watches 
and small sums of money carried by the passengers. The stage-coach 
company had become pretty clever in managing the gold shipments, 
and the Bass gang always found the treasure-boxes empty. Once Collins 
believed that a large amount of gold-dust must be concealed in a cer- 
tain coach, and he cut the vehicle all to pieces with an axe, but found 
nothing. Finally Frank Towle was shot dead by a guard, while trying 
to stop a stage over in Wyoming. Bass meditated upon this for a while, 
and finally announced his opinion that stage-robbing didn't pay. "I'm 
gettin* tired," said he, "of riskin' my neck for flapjack money an' a 
few brass watches." 

.~2 The officers a t Deadwood had evidently begun to suspect Bass and 
Collins of some connection with the stage-robberies, so Sam decided to 
leave the Black Hills and return to Nebraska. It is believed that Jack 
Davis conceived the idea of robbing the Union Pacific train, but it was 
Joel Collins who worked out the plan and led the enterprise. Everv- 
body knew that big shipments of gold were handled by the express 
company, but there had never been any attempt to rob the trains in "that 
region. As for Sam Bass, he was sick and tired of stopping stage- 
coaches^ and expressed himself as being ready for anything. 

Besides Sam Bass and Collins, the reorganized gang in^uded Jack 
Davis, Jim Berry Tom\ Nixon and Bill Heffridge. On the night of 
September 19, 1877, all six of these men waited for the east-bound train 
at Big Spring, about 20 miles west of Ogallala, Nebraska. Collins had 
ridden into town the day before, and bought several big red handker- 
chiefs from F. M. Leech, who ran a little neighborhood store. Wearing 
these handkerchiefs as masks, the robbers slipped into Big Spring station, 
broke -up the telegraph instrument, and forced the telegrapher to f'ag 
the train with a red lantern. 

When the train stopped, two men pulled the engineer and fireman 
out of the cab, and threw water into the firebox so that the train could 
not be started. Then they took the poor telegrapher to the express car, 
and forced him to call out the express messenger. When the messenger 

opened the door, the bandits knocked him down and took his pistol 
away. The big safe was said to contain $200,000 in gold dust, but the 
messenger swore that he could not open it. He did unlock a little safe, 
from which Collins took about $500 in greenbacks. Meanwhile two 
other bandits had gone through the ; train and taken $1,300 from the 
passengers, also a hatful of gold watches. Back in the express car 
Sam stumbled upon three wooden boxes. He broke one of these open 
to find it full of bright new twenty-dollar gold pieces, all dated 1877. 
The three boxes contained $60,000 in all. "This is our meat," cried 
Sam, "an' to hell with the big safe!" 

The six robbers rode iaway from the train in high good humor, and 
buried the gold on the bank of a stream near Ogallala. With plenty 
of greenbacks to spend, they loafed. about Ogallala for several days. The 
Wells Fargo company offered a reward of $10,000 for the capture of 
the robbers, but Bass and his friends felt perfectly safe. It appears 
that the only man who suspected them was F. M. Leech, the store- 
keeper who had sold Collins the big red handkerchiefs. Leech said 
nothing, but snooped around a camp where Bass and Collins had stopped 
overnight, and found a little piece of new red cloth in: the ashes. This 
cloth matched the handkerchiefs that he had sold the strangers. Before 
Leech could do any more detective work, the outlaws divided the loot 
into three portions and separated. Joel Collins and Heffridge rode 
down the old trail toward San Antonio. Jim Berry and. Nixon started 
back to Missouri, where Berry had a wife and family. Sam Bass and 
Jack Davis decided to head for Denton, Texas. Bass planned to pay 
his debts and set himself up in some honest business. If all went well, 
he intended to rejoin Collins later on, perhaps at San Antonio. If things 
did not go well, he had some idea of crossing the border to spend the 
rest of his life in Mexico. ■"•* • 

Joel Collins and Bill Heffridge rode carelessly down the Western 
trail. Their portion of the gold was wrapped in an old pair of overalls 
tied on a pack-horse. They did not know that F. M. Leech, the littfe 
storekeeper of Ogallala, had wired their descriptions and all that he 
could find out about them to the Wells Fargo people at Omaha. These 
men had sent out warnings and descriptions to officers all over the West. 
A man named Beardsly was sheriff of Ellis county, Kansas, at the time. 
He started out with ten eavalry,mjen from Fort Hays, and came up with 
Collins and Heffridge at Buffalo Station, on the Kansas Pacific railroad. 
"Well, what do you want?" said Collins to the sheriff. Beardsly 
answered that he was looking for two train-robbers, but was not sure 
about the identification. He did not place Collins and Heffridge in 
formal arrest. 

"Gentlemen," said the sheriff, "please v come back to the telegraph 
office with me, until I can make sure about this. It will take only a 
few minutes. If you are not the robbers, you have nothing to fear." 
Collins shrugged his shoulders. "You're wrong, Sheriff," he said easily. 
"But we'll come, of course. What else can we do? But you'll find that 
we are no robbers, just two Texas boys, tryin' to get back home." 
Before the station was reached, Collins and Heffridge exchanged some 
secret signal, and snatched out their revolvers at the same instant. 
But the cavalrymen were old hands at this sort of thing, and killed 
both bandits before they could fire a shot. 

Not much money was found in the dead men's pockets, and the 
sheriff was still uncertain about their identity. After a while he 


lappened to notice the pack-horse, quietly grazing some distance away. 
In the pack he found more than $20,000 in gold, all double-eagles dated 
1877. The body of Heffridge was later identified as that of William 
Potts, who came originally from Pottstown, Pensylvania. 

Meanwhile Jim. Berry and the man called ■ Nixon were heading for 
Kansas City, Missouri. The little merchant Leech followed them all the 
way from Ogallala. "The amateur detective," writes Gard, "was 
dressed in an outlandish manner. He wore an old pair of shoes, pants, 
that were almost worn out, a new hat, and a loose coat with the tail 
cut off. Under his coat he had a pistol, and two belts full of cartridges." 
Berry got off the train at Mexico, Missouri, and visited three different 
banks, exchanging $9,000 gold for currency. He bought some new 
clothes, and sent $300 worth of groceries to his wife who lived in the 
country about 15 miles from town. He told several old acquaintances 
that he had made -a lot of money in the gold fields. 

As soon as the banks learned that the gold was stolen, the de- 
tectives from St. Louis arrived in Mexico. They finally cornered Berry 
in a patch of woods, and shot him in the leg with a load of buckshot. 
They found $2,840 in his pockets. He did not seem to be seriously hurt, 
so they took him into Mexico and locked him up. A preacher inquired 
if he did not regret having become an outlaw and a robber, whereupon 
Berry answered: "No, I'll be damned if I regret anything I ever done." 
He did not talk much, but said that Nixon had gone to Chicago. Berry's 
leg did not mend properly, and blood poison set in, so that he died a 
few days later. Just before Berry's death, the storekeeper Leech came 
storming in, shouting that he had trailed Berry through three states and 
was. entitled to most of the reward offered for the robber's capture. 

Probably it is true that Nixon went to . Chicago, and later escaped 
across the border, into Canada. He had always claimed to be a Canadian. 
He got clear away with his share of the loot, anyhow, and nothing more 
was ever heard of him. 

Sam Bass and Jack Davis rode south across the prairies, using the 
two sacks of gold as weights to anchor their ponies at night. They knew 
nothing of Leech's detective work, and had not heard of the doom that 
had fal 1 en on Collins, Heffridge, and Berry. In a Kansas village they 
traded one saddle-horse for a rattletrap buggy or "hack," and the other 
for a plow-horse and a set of harness. Now they put the gold under the 
seat, covered with some dirty blankets. They concealed their weapons 
too, except for one rifle. In southern Kansas they 'met some soldiers 
who were looking for train-robbers. But the officer in charge had been 
told that the outlaws were riding good horses and leading a pack-mule 
loaded with gold. So he* paid little attention to these shabby fellows 
crawling along in their dilapidated buggy. Bass said later that he and 
Davis camped with the soldiers for several nights, adding that he "felt 
pretty safe with them." 

The trip through the Indian Territory was uneventful. Bass and 
Davis stopped to rest their old nag occasionally, fished in the clear 
streams, and shot deer and turkey which they traded to the settlers for 
flour and other food. There is a tradition that Bass told people at this 
time his name was Bushong — Gard spells it Bushon. /'They left the 
Territory and drove pretty well into Texas without any mishap. When 
they pulled into Fort Worth, Davis took his share of the money and 
went on to New Orleans by rail. It. is said that Bass and Davis m,et 
once more, several months later, when Davis came up to Denton to see 

lis old partner. The story is that Davis tried to persuade Bass to 
accompany him to South America, hut Sam decided not to go. Jack 
Davis drops out of the story here, though it is said that he lived a 
long and peaceful life somewhere south of the Border, and made a vast 
fortune in the cattle business. 

After Davis hoarded the train for New Orleans, Sam strolled 
about Forth 'Worth for a while, and did some serious thinking. By this 
time he had heard about what happened to Joel Collins and Bill Hef- 
fridge and Jim Berry. He must have known that the officers would be 
after him too. Sam still intended to go back to . Denton, but resolved 
not to rush into a trap, or take any unnecessary risks. Having abandoned 
the old horse and buggy, he purchased a good pony with a saddle and 
bridle, choosing a saddle with a pair of stout leather pouches attached. 
He put the gold into these bags, and rode slowly toward Denton, being 
careful to keep away from the beaten trail. He stopped in a wilderness 
known as Cove Hollow, about 40 miles from Denton, and buried most 
of the money. He decided to camp in Cove Hollow for a while, 
before venturing into town.. 

Little by little Sam became bolder, and began to slip into Denton 
occasionally at night. Many people in the neighborhood had heard of 
the Big. Spring robbery, but they had not linked it up with Sam Bass. 
One of Sam's first contacts in Denton was his old crony Henry Under- 
wood, whom he met just outside the town. Underwood had been through 
a lot of trouble since the days of the Denton mare. He had shot two 
men down on the Concho, istolen some cattle, set a church afire, and 
committed several other indiscretions. He had been jailed four times, 
and was about ready to leave Denton for good. He was easily per- 
suaded to move out to Cove Hollow and camp with Sam Bass. 

Another old associate was Jim Murphy, who lived in a shack be- 
tween Cove Hollow and Denton, Murphy visited Sam and Underwood 
at the camp, and they spent a lot of time at his place. Sam became 
rather chummy with several other members of the Murphy family 
Later on Bass persuaded Sam Jackson, also of Denton, to give up his 
job and move out to camp in Cove Hollow. All of these boys wondered at. 
Sam's sudden prosperity, but Sam explained that he had discovered a 
gold-mine m the Black Hills and sold out for a substantial sum of 
money. Perhaps they kiidn't altogether believe this, but that's what 
Sam told them at the time. 

Life in the wilderness camip soon became monotonous^, and Sam -Bass, 
Underwood and Jackson mounted their ponies and set out for San An- 
tonio. On the way they bought new clothes, new saddles, new six- 
shooters. It was about the middle of December,, when they arrived at San 
Antonio.- They embarked at once on a big celebration, and were having 
a very enjoyable time until Sam met a prostitute who slipped him. a bit of 
information that she had picked up in the course of her professional 
activities. She said that three officers were in town, and they were 
looking for Sam Bass, to arrest him for the Big Spring robbery! One 
was a Pinkerton detective known as Tooney Waits, the others were 
Tom Gerrin and Billy Everheart, deputy sheriffs from the Denton 
vicinity. Gerrin was the only one who knew Bass by sight. Sam re- 
warded his informant liberally, then he, and his two friends slipped out 
of town and headed toward Forth Worth. Sam was considerably upset, 
as if he realized for the first time that there was no turning back' 
and that he must be a robber and an outlaw from now on out. 

Two or three days before Christmas, Bass ' and his pals stopped a 


i'o-rt Worth, but the vehicle carriec 
two passengers, who had less than :'$50 between them. Thoroughly dis- 
gusted, the three bandits went on their way in silence. Sam and Jackson 
decided to hole up at the camp, but Underwood rode on into Denton to 
see his family. Soon after he arrived a group of officers arrested him; 
they said that Underwood was really ,Tom Nixon, wanted for robbing a 
train at Big Spring, Nebraska. This arrest for a crime of which he 
was not guilty enraged Underwood to the point of frenzy. He shouted 
that he had never heard of Nixon and never been to Big Spring, but 
the posse took him to Nebraska in handcuffs and flung him into jail. 

The arrest of Underwood frightened Bass and Jackson, and they 
decided to move camp. Oddly enough, they moved nearer to Denton, 
instead of farther away. The new place was in a piece of dense woods 
on Hickory Creek, only about 12 miles out of town. Although Sam 
certainly knew by this time that the officers were watching for him, 
he and Jackson often ventured into Denton. They always went at night, 
however, and kept out of sight as much as possible. Sam was not 
foolish enough to take his stolen money to the bank, as poor Berry had 
done in Mexico, Missouri. But he did use some of his $20 gold pieces 
to buy groceries, whiskey, cartridges and other necessities. One night 
he and Jackson becamie a little drunk, so they rode down the street 
yelling and firing" their pistols in the air. Tom Gerrin, a deputy sheriff 
who knew Bass, came running out of a bawdy-house and opened fire. 
All three men emptied their revolvers, it is said, but nobody was hit. 
The two outlaws regarded it as a narrow escape, however, and did not 
show themselves in Denton for several weeks. Jackson was all for 
leaving Texas, but Sam wouldn't hear of it. Nobody can say, at this 
late date, just why it was that Sam Bass was so determined to remain in 
the vicinity of Denton. 

On the 26th of January, 1878, Bass and Jackson went down to a 
point near Weatherford, Texas, and stuck up a stage in broad daylight. 
They wore masks made of bandana handkerchiefs, and Jackson held a 
Winchester on the crowd while Sam flourished two revolvers. This 
time there were five passengers, and they handed over four gold 
watches and nearly $500 in cash. This was certainly better than the 
water-haul they made near Fort Worth, and Jackson was jubilant. But 
Sam. kept thinking of the great train-robbery at Big Spring, where six 
men had, in a few moments, taken more than $60,000. He suggested 
that it might be a good idea to rob a few trains right here in Texas. 
Jackson considered this for a while, but was not enthusiastic. "It looks 
to :m)e," said he, "as if train-robbin' might be kind of dangerous." Sam 
laughed at this observation, and often quoted it later on, but he did 
not deny that there was a certain hazard involved in the business. 

Also, Sam reflected, a train-robbery might be dangerous indeed for 
two men — at least four would be much safer. Sam did not know any 
experienced train-robbers, but there were plenty of desperate characters 
in Texas, men who would try anything <onee just for the hell of it. 
There was .Tom Spottswood, for example, who had irmrdered two 
gamblers in Missouri, and killed three Negroes since coming to Texas. 
Another likely candidate was Seab Barnes, who had served time for 
murder and was regarded as a reckless, dangerous m:an. Sam put the 
proposition bluntly to these boys, and they took him up ot once. Seab 
Barnes was a bit worried because there was no railroad at Denton, or 
even in Denton county. But Sam and Jackson, who regarded themselves 


as widely traveled men, reassured him about that. They would find 
a tram for him, when the time came. 

On February 22, 1878, Sam Bass and his three henchmen were 
waiting in a little clump of trees at Allen, on the Houston & Texas 
Central Railroad, about 20 miles north of Dallas. It was dark and the 
masked men moved up to the little station without attracting any atten- 
tion. They silenced the station-agent easily enough, and when the train 
stopped two robbers held up the engineer and fireman. Bass and the 
remaining outlaw hurried to the express car. The door was open and 
the messenger was looking out. When he saw the robbers he drew his 
pistol and fired at them; the robbers returned the fire, but without any 
result. Shooting from behind some trunks, the express messenger held 
off the bandits until his ammunition was all gone ,then he very sensibly 
surrendered. Bass threatened to kill him unless he opened the safe, so 
he opened it. The money was partly in silver coin, and the robbers 
got only about $1,300. There were nearly 200 passengers on the train, 
but Bass thought best not to molest them. So the robbers took the' 
$1,300 fromi the express car, and rode away into the night. 

i f ir he £*SS M S? m i >any t ai,d the State of Texas ^fered rewards 
totalling $1 500 each for the bandits. The express messenger insisted 
that he could identify one of them, whose mask had fallen off in the 
express car. Tom Spottswood was arrested, and the messenger made a 
positive identification, but no money was found on Spottswood. He 
spent almost two years in jail, and was tried several times, hut the jury 
finally acquitted him. Seab Barnes was in poor health at the time of 
Spottswood'* arrest. "With Seab sick, and that fool Tom in jail, we're 
kind of short-handed," said Bass. So they just sat around the camp on 
Hickory Creek for several weeks, playing stud poker to pass the time 
As soon as Barnes felt able to travel the three rode down to Hutch- 
ms, some 10 miles south of Dallas. Jackson held up the engineer and 
fireman as soon as the train stopped, also two tramps riding somewhere 
about the engine, who popped out inopportunely. Sami Bass and Seab 
Barnes ran" to the express car, but the express messenger bolted the 
door and hid his sack of money— nearly $4,000^in the stovepipe. Bass 
broke in the door, but found only about $350 in silver, which he took. 
The mail clerk also had hidden most of the registered mail, so that a 
hasty search of his car yielded only about $125. Some of the passengers 
on the train had revolvers, and when the robbers were about to leave 
there was a good deal of shooting. Sam and Jackson fired in the air 
as they rode away. The express messenger rushed out into the road, 
and was wounded by a brakeman, who mistook him for one of the 

Bass and his colleagues felt themselves pretty safe in Denton 
county. They had many friends and acquaintances there and were 
generous with their stolen funds. W. P. Webb says that Bass "spent mo re 
money than anyone in Denton county had seen in 10 yea ."The Z7l 
sheriff was Dad Eagan, who. knew Bass well, since he hired him yehis 
.before to take care of the Eagan milk-cows. Sheriff Eagan knTw that 

of^hf vT n a "/ tH 1 EXPTCSS C ° mpany Actives luspecteT Bas 
of robbery. But no formal charge had been filed, and Eagan had no 
warrant to. serve on Bass. Texas was accustomed to crime in those 
days-.murder, lynching, cattle-rustling and the l&e-but this business ' 
ol robbing trains was something new and glamorous. The public was 
interested m train-robbers, and rather sympathetic toward them. Most 
rural lexans hated the railroads and all other big corporations, and 


even officers of the law were not too enthusiastic in their efforts to 
protect railroad property. 7 ■ 

Shortly after the robbery of the Texas Central train at Hutchins, 
Henry Underwood appeared at the camp. He had broken out of iail 
at Kearney, Nebraska, where he had been confined because the officers 
mistook him for Tom Nixon, who had taken part in. the train-robbery 
at Big Spring. With Underwood was a Missourian whose real name 
was McKeen, but who called himself Arkansaw Johnson. Johnson had 
been m jail with Underwood, and had escaped with him. These men 
had no money at all, and were ready for any sort of crime. So Bass 
welcomed them to the, camp. Five men, said he, could always do a 
neater job than three, when it camie to holding up trains. 

r, n Tlie ^ 6Xt . robber y came off at Eagle Ford, only six miles out of 
Dallas. On April 4, 1878, about midnight, the gang stopped the Texas 
& Pacific express. Only four masked men showed themselves here. 
Bass, Barnes, and Arkansaw Johnson were certainly present, but the 
identity of the fourth man is in doubt. It seems likely that Jackson and 
Underwood both remained in Denton county that night. 

The method used was the same as that of the previous robberi^ 

STtf?™ Bass": f a £° n a TV he engin&er ' -r t he fireman 1 :" 
the platform. Bass and Barnes broke in the door of the express car 

when the messenger failed to open it. There was an armed I euard 
inside the ear with the messenger, but neither guard nor messenger 
xori e / t 7 reS1StanCe - *"» f ™ d ™ly about $50 in the safe when he 
forced the messenger to open it. The express company, as a precaution 
against robbers, had put the money in a "little poke" which was carried 
by a woman agent in the passenger-coach. The mail car was locked 

dl^TLtan'had Vd/ f™> ^f^ the ™^ ^enefthe 
«Z V J? ,7 d - hldden hls "^faired letters, hut Bass picked up 

?£3 !L Sm t % glSte lf PaCkageS - Not a shot was fired "a Eagle 
lord either by the robbers or by those whose task it was to protect 
the tram. Bass was enraged because so little loot was obtained but he 
made no effort to rob the passengers. Sam Bass, Seab BarU and 
Arkansas Johnson were all back in the Hickory Creek camp next day 
of m" A ? riI 10 'i 87 ^ Sam BaSS t00k Ws Sang down to the litfe town 

Lu qU ™ °' n ^ TeXaS & Padfic railroad ' aboilt 12 mile* east of 
Dallas. There were seven masked men this time-Bass, Underwood 
Jackson, Arkansaw Johnson, Barnes, Albert Herndon and Sam Pipes 
It tW ° !«** ?™«J were country boys, who had never attempted any- 
thing so ambitious as tram robbery before. The train came in at 
IL«J?« f™^ 11 ^ Parted off as usual, with Jackson lining up 

the station-agent engineer and fireman on the platform. The conductor, 
a Civil War veteran named Alvord, fired several shots from a pocket- 
pistol; unable to hit anybody, he threw it away in disgust and went back 

™1° jf ^".S?' it 1 . 8 a J my C0ltS ' Wh€n Alvord began to "shoot around 
regardless- with this formidable weapon, one of the robbers stopped 
laughing long enough to shoot him through the shoulder. Upon this 
Alvord threw down his pistol and stalked away into the town, calling 
for a physician to bind up his wound. 

The express messenger, the baggage-master and two special guards 
all took to shooting at the robbers, and even the news-butcher was 
seen walking •about with a revolver, hut Bass called out to him, saying 
that they "didn't need any peanuts," so the boy went back into the 
coach without firing a shot. When the messenger refused to open the 
door of the express car, Sam brought kerosene from the engine and 


where the men inside it could smell it. Then he shouted loudly that 
he "aimed to set the whole shebang afire, and shoot the sons-of-bitch^s 
when they run out." When the messenger and guards heard Sam 
strike a match they surrendered at once. But meanwhile the messenger 
had hidden most of the company money in the stove, so that Sam only 
got $150 and a few registered -letters. 

There was a certain amount of firing going on all this time, some 
of it from the guards in charge of a gang of convicts camped nearby, 
and some from the townspeople 'who had come down to see what was 
going on. A storekeeper named Gross rushed on the scene just at the 
end of the performance, and , saw a man hiding behind a trestle. In- 
stantly the storekeeper "snaked him out," and marched the poor fellow 
out into the light, shouting that he had captured Sam Bass single- 
handed! Nobody laughed louder than 'the real Bass when he saw that 
Gross had captured the fireman of the train, who had prudently taken 
shelter behind the trestle to avoid stray bullets. Sam. got another laugh 
when the express messenger asked for a receipt, so that nobody should 
think that he had stolen the $150 out of the express ear! 

The Bass gang rode away as usual, but Pipes was slightly wounded 
in the side. He and Herndon did not go to Denton county with the 
rest of the boys, but remained with some friends on a farm near Dallas. 
A few days later Pipes and Herndon were arrested by Captain June 
Peak of the Texas Rangers, who had finally been called into the ease. 
The officers found the bullet-wound in Pipes' side, but he said it was a 
boil; later on, while a doctor probed the wound, he admitted that it was 
a bullet-hole, but that a friend had shot him accidentally. Pipes and 
Herndon were held for mail robbery, a federal offense, and locked in 
the jail at Tyler, about 100 miles east of Dallas. 

Rural Texans in general did not ride on trains, or hold any 
particular prejudice against train-robbers, but the moneyed men in 
Dallas were worried about the Bass gang. Four train robberies in less 
than two months, all of them practically in the suburbs of Dallas! 
"Newspaper writers swarmed in," writes Webb, "and furnished the 
state more exciting news than it had known since Lee surrendered. 
The whole country was agog with rumors and expectations. Business 
men and bankers loaded up their shotguns and Winchesters and placed 
them conveniently behind the counters and beside the doors." 

The state of excitement in what came to be called "the Sam Bass 
country" can hardly be realized today. People would not ride on trains, 
they would not send valuables by express, or trust money to the United 
States mails! Some even rode into town and drew their money out of 
the banks, preferring to bury it in the ground somewhere. "The city of 
Dallas," says Webb, "had become headquarters for all the detectives and 
bandit hunters of the country. United States Marshal Stillwell H. Russell 
was quarterd at the Windsor Hotel with 19 special deputies. William 
Pinkerton, son of Alan, had a flock of his men at the LeGrand, and 
not a day passed that one or more Pinkertons did not make a trip to 
Denton to see if Bass was there. 'Sam seems to be their meat,' de- 
clared a reporter, 'and they will roll him over should they get the drop 
on him, as one of them said he is worth $8,000 up North.' In addition, 
the express companies and railroads had their, secret service men and 
special agents on the ground. To add to the confusion there were numer- 
ous self-appointed detectives who were ambitious to win the large re- 
wards. It was estimated that not less than 150 Bass hunters were in 


and around Denton county, and they had to be alert to keep from being 
shadowed and arrested by their fellows." 

Wayne Gard, in his biography of Sam Bass, observes that "such 
events as the strawberry festival at the Christian Church and Bishop 
Alexander C. Garrett's lecture at the Episcopal Church fai 1 ed to divert 
attention from the impending Bass war. Detectives, professionals and 
amateur, swarmed about the town day and night. Never had Dallas seen 
such a crop of false whiskers. As two men were riding through a 
business street at night, one dropped a long black beard. He immediately 
dismounted and recovered the appendage, and , the two dashed out of 
town to some unknown destination." 

Bass and his men had so many supporters in and about Denton that 
they felt reasonably secure. The local officers had bothered them littfa 
so far, and they were not afraid of any "foreign" detectives. But th > 
Texas Rangers were something else again. The Dallas business men mad. 1 
such a row over the Bass robberies that the Governor of Texas finally 
sent Major John B. Jones, commander of the_ Rangers, into Denton 
county incognito on April 14, 1878, to investigate the situation. It was 
Captain June Peak, working openly as a Ranger, who arrested Pipes 
and Herndon — the two boys who participated in only one robbery, and 
who knew little about Bass arid his friends. Major Jones walked 
cautiously at first, for he had been told that Bass had at least 60 mien, 
some of them in positions of authority, who watched every stranger's 
movements and reported to the bandit chief every night. 

On April 8 Captain Peak rode into Denton at the head of his 
Rangers, about 30 men in all. They had warrants for Bass, Barnes, 
Jackson, Underwood and Johnson. Sheriff Eagan deputized a lot of 
local men, and from this time forward he worked with the Rangers as 
best he could. The robbers knew all about this, of course, and watched 
the movements of the officers with field-glasses. The presence of the 
Rangers worried them, and they retreated to Sam's old camp in Cove 

The first exchange of shots between the outlaws and the Rangers 
was a long-range encounter. One of the Rangers fired at Sam- clear 
across. Cove Hollow, a distance of perhaps 500 yards, and his first bullet 
struck the stock of Sam's rifle. It was a fluke, of course, but such 
accurate shooting horrified the bandits. "Let's get out of here," cried 
Sam, and the outlaws were soon out of sight among the trees. Sam was 
unhurt, but he was mighty thoughtful all evening. He just sat around, 
glumly fingering the bullet-hole in the stock of his Winchester. 

The next day a deputy got a tip that the fugitives were camped 
in a patch of woods about four miles north of Denton, and sent for 
Sheriff Eagan. The sheriff came with 10 deputies, but the robbers 
saw them coming, and fled before they could get within shooting 
distance. Many local men had hitherto refused to take any part in tfie 
bandit chase, since they did not wish to associate with the Pinkertons 
or the Rangers, but when they learned that their own sheriff was out 
to get Bass they joined the posse at once. 

"The town of Denton," says Gard, "had taken on the appearance 
of a military camp. Nearly every man who had a horse and a gun 
was on the warpath, ready to capture or drive out the brigands, who 
were believed to be camping in the jungle region where Hickory Creek 
joined Elm. Fork, southeast of Denton. This area contained large swamps 
and was overgrown with briars, vines and timber that it was almost 
impenetrable for anyone not well acquainted with its narrow trails. 


Thus far, the pursuers had done a great deal more riding than the pue- 
sued. One man who caught a glimpse of Bass said he was sitting 
quietly on his horse, smiling as slyly as an old fox while the posses 
milled about in_ search of his trail." 

Early one morning a deputy found the tracks of shod" horses in the 
Hickory Creek swamp, "so fresh that the dew had been knocked off'n 
the grass." This swamp was a dense jungle, and nobody could possibly 
ride a horse into it, but the bandits must have led their mounts in 
somehow. A posse gathered at once and crawled into the almost im- 
penetrable thicket. "Nobody saw or "heard a thing as the robbers escaped, 
but the officers found two saddle-horses, some army blankets, a frying- 
pan, and a coffee pot in the warm ashes of a eampfire. The robbers 
had carefully peeled the bark from the wood they burned, so as to pro- 
duce a minimum of smoke. 

Several times members of the posse mistook each other for bandits, 
and some officers fired at their fellows repeatedly, but nobody was 
seriously hurt. One horse was killed, and a Dallas youth was shot 
through the foot, but it appears that the youth shot himself accidentally. 
Bass and his men could have killed many of the pursuers from ambush, 
but they made no attempt to do so. When the Hickory Creek bottom 
became so full of officers that they could -not 'be dodged any longer, .the 
outlaws rode 100 miles west into Stephens county, where they camped 
near a town called Breckenridge. 

They had no difficulty in obtaining new camping equipment and 
provisions in the Breckenridge neighborhood. The Texas robberies had 
not been profitable, but Sam still had plenty of money, mostly in gold 
pieces from the hold-up at Big. Spring, Nebraska. It was some of these 
$20 gold pieces, suddenly appearing in the hands of poverty-stricken 
farmers, which attracted the officers' attention to the new hangout. 
The sheriff of Stephens county sallied out with a posse and engaged 
the bandits at long range, but nobody was hurt. Four local men who 
armed themselves and rode out to win the big rewards were captured 
by Bass, who took their weapons away but gave, them a jug of whiskey 
in exchange. When the Rangers came along next day they found these 
men still drunk, telling tall stories about their experience , with the 

Bass and his friends disappeared for a few days after this episode, 
and many people thought they had left the country for good. But they 
had only moved over into Palo. Pinto county, Where they were soon be- 
trayed by more of the 1877 gold pieces. The Rangers and Sheriff Eagan's 
men went galloping through the brush wherever the bandits were re- 
ported, in various parts of Palo Pinto, Young, Hood and Jack counties. 
Suddenly the Bass gang appeared in Denton county, right in the middle 
of the town of Denton! They dashed up front of the livery- stable, and 
Sam told the man to saddle two horses which the posse had "stolen" 
from the Bass camp on Hickory Creek. One stableman made a hostile 
movement, and Jackson bopped him on the head with a pistol. Somebody 
else saddled the horses, and the gang dashed out of town without a shot 
being fired. The whole place was swarming with detectives and officers, 
but nobody ever thought that Bass would ride boldly into town in broad 

The townsfolk reported that there were seven riders in the Bass 
gang now, and the two new ones were recognized as Henry Collins and 
Charlie Carter. These boys had not , been connected with any of the 
robberies, but young Collins' brother Billy had been arrested on 


suspicion because he was known to be a friend of Bass. Sheriff Eagan 
was in bed when Sami made his raid on the livery-stable, but he got up 
and led a posse of 50 men about Denton county all day, without catch- 
ing a glimpse of the bandits. The weather was bad, it rained most of 
the time, and tracking was impossible. 

Next day the gang stopped near Pilot Knob to buy some eggs from 
an old woman; Sam gave her one of the famous $20 gold pieces, and 
told her to keep the change. ' She istill had the gold in her hand when 
the posse came along, but she kept the hand closed and told them 
nothing. There were only six men in the group which came within 
sight of the Bass gang, and as soon as their leader received a flesh 
wound in the thigh the officers fell back. One of them started to ride 
for help, and the bandits ran him down. They didn't shoot this man, but 
took his saddle and bridle, turned his horse loose, and told him to walk 
home and let train robbers alone hereafter. 

More officers arrived, however, and soon the bandits had 40 armed 
men almost at their heels. There was a lot of shooting, and it seems 
almost miraculous that nobody was hurt. Many persons have said that 
Bass and his men fired over the pursuers' heads. It may be that some 
of the officers were not trying seriously to kill anybody. Shortly after 
dark two posses began shooting at each other, each evidently convinced 
that they were attacking the bandits. In this exchange of fire, an officer 
named Wetzel was shot in the leg. Meanwhile the robbers somehow 
slipped away, and returned by a roundabout trail to the jungle on 
Hickory Creek. 

Two days later a posse led by Sheriff Eagan employed an expert 
tracker named Medlin. -Moving slowly through the brush, early in the 
morning, they surprised the outlaws at breakfast. It was there that 
the first blood of the "Bass war" was shed. Arkansaw Johnson was shot 
in the neck— a slight wound, but painful. Underwood got a bullet in 
the. upper arm. Young Carter was shot in the leg. One member of the 
posse received a flesh wound in the shoulder. Three horses were 
killed — the one ridden by Underwood, and two belonging to the officers. 
The bandits lost all their provisions and camping equipment. As they 
rode away into the thickets, Underwood leaped up behind one of the other 
horsemen. Next morning the whole gang appeared in the town of 
Bolivar. Here they bought fresh horses, some new clothes, 1,000 cart- 
ridges, and a good supply of food. The storekeeper recognized the 
bandits and was reluctant to sell themi anything, but they just took 
what they wanted and told him to add up the bill. He did so, and Bass 
placed a little pile of money on the counter. 

Gard reports a bit of horseplay which occurred the same afternoon. 
"After resting a short time," he writes, "the outlaw band rode ^off to 
the northwest, toward Cove Hollow. On the road they had a lit>le fun 
by capturing a man named Dawson, who was riding in to join Sheriff 
Eagan's forces. After searching him for papers, they gave him a mock 
trial, at the close of which they returned his gun and told him. to run 
along or he would be too late. When the man remounted, however, he 
found that one of the outlaws had swapped saddles with him." 

Many of the amateur bandit-hunters wearied of the chase after a 
few days, and went back to their farms. A lot of Rangers resigned too. 
'They had enlisted to protect Texas against the Indians and Mexicans. 
They hated cattle-rustlers, but had nothing against train-robbers or 
bank-robbers. Miany rural Texans, at this time, regarded banks and 
railroads as great public enemies, likely to ruin the whole country. 


On May 12, 1878, Captain Peak's company of Rangers, together -with 
a sheriff's posse, stopped to water their horses at a little stream called 
Salt Creek. This was in Wise county, a few miles west of Cottondale. 
Some of the officers happened to look up, and suddenly they saw the 
outlaws lying on the ground in a little clearing. Apparently they were 
all asleep, with their horses tied nearby. The Rangers fired instantly, 
and killed Arkansaw Johnson. Poor Johnson never knew what hit him, 
and Sergeant Tom, Floyd was credited with the killing. Sam Bass and 
the remaining five men sprang up and returned the fire. Underwood 
caught a horse and rode away, with bullets cutting twigs all around 
him. The other bandits took to their heels and disappeared in the 
brush. The Rangers killed two horses and captured four. 

Henry Underwood had been getting fed up with Bass and his gan? 
for some time. The fact that they had held up four trains and got 
practically no money disgusted him. Bass was a good fellow, he said, 
but plainly not cut out to lead a band of desperadoes. Bass ought to be 
running a livery-stable somewhere, or maybe a bowling alley. Bass's 
refusal to leave Denton county would get them all killed sooner or later, 
Underwood had often said. The death of Johnson at Salt Creek was 
bad enough, and now the other damned fools had lost their horses! Thh 
was the last straw, and Underwood rode away from the gang without, 
a backward glance. He never saw Sam Bass again. 

Young Henry Collins and Charlie Carter, who were not really out- 
laws at all, also decided to return to their homes. These boys had not 
taken part in any of the robberies, but had joined the gang after the 
Mesquite hold-up. The old-timers saw them go without any protest. 
Seab Barnes, Sam Bass and Frank Jackson were all that was left of 
the Bass gang now, although some city newspapers were still claiming 
that Sam; had 50 or 60 men under his command. The three bandits 
somehow obtained fresh horses and rode back to Denton county. 

Among those who- had been arrested for harboring Sam Bass were 
Henderson Murphy and his son Jim,, both residents of Denton county. It 
is true that Sam had stopped at the Murphy house on occasion, and 
that Jim Murphy had spent some of Sam's stolen money. Sam had 
several times invited Jim to join the band, but there is no evidence 
that Murphy had participated in any of the robberies. Old Henderson 
Murphy was completely innocent of any wrong-doing in connection 
with the Bass gang. Nevertheless, both Murphys were thrown into jail 
at Tyler as accomplices of Saim Bass. 

When Sam, Barnes and Jackson returned to Cove Hollow, two or 
three days after Arkansaw Johnson was killed at Salt Creek, they 
rode up to Jim Murphy's house. Jim was at home, and told the robbers 
that he was out on bond. . Sant advised him to jump the bond and join 
up with the gang, since he was sure to be convicted if he stood trial 
at Tyler. "We'll be rich again in a few weeks," said Sam. "We're 
goin' to take up bank-robbin' from now on. An' the first strike we make 
you can send money back here to fix things, so your bondsmen won't 
lose a cent." Jim Murphy appeared to be undecided, and said that 
he wanted a day or two in order to think the matter over. 

What had really happened at Tyler was that Jim Murphy tried to 
get bail, but was unable to do so. In order to obtain his release h ; 3 
called in the Rangers, and proposed to join Sam's gang and then 
betray them all to the officers. In return for this treachery, the charges 
against Jim and his' father were to be dismissed, and Jim was to be cut- 
in on the reward money besides. With this understanding, the officers 


induced some local .. 

thing about the real purpose of the action. Here is an extract from a 

sworn statement which Jim Murphy made later: » 

"I hereby certify that on or about the 21st of May, 1878, whilst 
held in Tyler for trial as an accomplice of Sam Bass .and other train 
robbers, I proposed to Major Jno. B. Jones through Walter Johnson 
and Capt. June Peak that I thought I could assist in capturing the 
Bass party by joining them, and putting them in a position where 
they could be captured'. The Major then sent for me to come to his 
room where I had a long talk with him in the presence of Captain 
Peak and Walter Johnson, Deputy U. S. Marshal, after which he 
told me to wait there until he could have a talk with Judge Evans, U. S. 
District Attorney. He returned in half an hour and said that he had 
made an arrangement by which he could have the case against me 
dismissed. The agreemtent was that I should go off secretly the next 
morning before court met when it would be announced that I had run 
away, and forfeiture would be taken on my bond, but the District 
Attorney would protect my bondsmen. I then begged Major Jones to 
have the charges against my father dismissed also, as the old man did 
not have anything to do with Bass and his gang. He promised to talk 
to the District Attorney about it and have the case dismissed if he could." 

When Jim disappeared from Tyler his bondsmen raised a great 
outcry, demanding that the Rangers imake every effort to recapture 
him at once. One of these bondsmen wired local officers all over the 
country to be on the watch for Jim Murphy, and the newspapers de- 
nounced the Rangers for allowing him to get away. The Rangers 
naturally could not tell anybody about the secret arrangemtent they 
had made with Murphy. Local sheriffs knew nothing of it, and would 
have stopped Jim before he ever got to Cove Hollow, but for the fact 
that he had shaved off his beard and otherwise changed his appearance, 
so that even his old friends hardly recognized him in the streets. 

Jim Murphy testified later that he "laid out in the brush" for two 
weeks, but was unable to find Bass until after the fight at Salt Creek, 
when the outlaws returned to Cove Hollow. When he did finally make 
contact with Bass, he had no way of sending a message to the officers. 
So he was forced to join the robbers and ride with* them for an indefinite 
period. Jim did not like this much, because the Bass gang was now so 
hot, and had so many Rangers and detectives and sheriffs on their 
trail, that it was "plumb risky for a feller to go a-ridin' round with 'em." 

Soon after Jim agreed to join the gang, and while Bass, Barnes 
and Jackson were camped not far from the Murphy house, Sheriff 
Everheart of Grayson county met Murphy in the road. Murphy told 
Everheart to bring a big posse and capture the robbers that very 
night, but for some reason the sheriff and his posse failed to appear. 
AVhen the gang started out the next morning, Jirni Murphy rode along 
with the rest of them. 

At one house where they stopped overnight, Barnes told the farmer 
that they were Rangers, sent out by Captain Peak to kill or capture 
Sam Bass. The old man scowled at this and spoke up boldly, saying 
that he "thought a heap" of Bass, although he had never seen the 
robber. Sam was much pleased by this tribute, and intimated to Murphy 
that there were thousands of other Texans who felt the same way. It 
wasn't so much that they were for Sam Bass, although there was a 
certain amount of glamour about any successful bandit in those days. 


But the truth is that the average poor farmer or cattleman hated the 
railroads and all other big corporations which were, in his opinion, run by 
Yankees or foreigners for the exploitation of honest Texans. 

After stealing several saddle-horses, the Bass gang rode on into 
Dallas county. Coming to a little crossroads store, Sam bought a sack 
of cheap candy. Some loafers were discussing the hard times, and one 
young rustic said that he had half-a-mind to quit farming and join 
Sam Bass, as train-robbing seemed to pay better than scratching in 
the dirt. The crowd laughed at this remark, and Sam himself laughed 
louder than anybody. He traded the boy some candy for a ripe peach. 
Later on Sam said to Barnes: "What do you reckon that fool would 
have done if I had told him who I was, and showed him a few of them 
twenties? I'll bet you could have knocked his eyes off with a' board!" 

Despite the seriousness of their position, the bandits all seemed 
cherful enough. According to "Webb's account "there was much banter 
and merrymaking on the way South. Sam always appeared in good 
spirits. At one town they went into a saloon for beer, and it was on 
that bar that Sam threw his last twenty-dollar gold piece of '77. 'There's 
the last piece of '77 gold I have,' said he. 'It hasn't done me the least 
bit of good, but that is all right. I will get some more in a few days. 
So let it gush! It all goes in a lifetime,." 

One day Henry Collins and another man came into the Bass camp, 
and announced bluntly that Jim Murphy was a spy, who had sold out 
Bass to the Rangers. Sam was not inclined to believe this at first, 
but he sent Seab Barnes into town to investigate. Seab came back in 
a towering rage, and reported that it was all true. "Jim's a damn' 
traitor," he cried. "A marshal has telegraphed to people in Fort Worth 
that Jim figures on getting us to stick up a bank, where the Rangers 
will be laying for us. That's how come Jim to get out of the jail-house 
at Tyler. That's what' they turned the son-of -bitch loose for!" 

Barnes was all for killing Jim Murphy right then and there, and 
Sam agreed reluctantly. Asked if he had anything to say before he 
died, Jim answered in the affirmative. "Listen, boys," he said earnestly, 
"you ought to know I aint no traitor. What 1 told Major Jones don't 
cut no ice. You know it was. you boys that got me into jail, and I had 
to get out the best I .could. So this here Major Jones said he would let 
me and Pappy out, if I would help him catch Sam Bass. Well, I told 
him yes, of course. What would you have done, if you and your Pappy 
was locked up in that jail-house," 

Frank Jackson, who had always been friendly with Murphy, re- 
marked that he did not blame Jim at all. "Nobody wants to lay in 
jail, just for the lack of a few words," said he. "If it had been me, 
I'd have done the same as Jim. And you boys know that J aint .no 
traitor." Sam said nothing, but looked at Barnes. "No," said Barnes, 
"we know that you aint no traitor, Jackson. But you're wrong about 
this ^ feller Murphy. I think we'd better kill him right now." Sam said 
nothing, but he drew his pistol. 

At this point Jackson stood up. "Boys," he said slowly, "if you're 
a-goin' to kill Murphy, you might as well kill me too. We got this boy 
into jail, and then we talked him into joinin' up with us. We'll all get 
killed soon enough, without fightin' amongst ourselves. But I tell you 
plain, the man that shoots Jim Murphy will have me to fight!" 

Sam Bass sighed. "Nobody wants to fight you, Frank," he said 
heavily. "If you're so damn' certain that Jim is all right, we better let 


at everybody 

and said no more, but it was easy to see that his opinion of Murphy 
was unchanged. Henry Collins and the stranger had taken no part in 
this talk. But when they saw that Murphy was to be spared, they re- 
fused to have anything more to do with the gang. Collins shook hands 
with Sam and Barnes. "Take care of yourselves, boys," he said . in 
parting. "I'm afraid you're a-ridin' to a fall." 

The four outlaws went their way, but there was no more joking or 
skylarking along the trail. Frank Jackson and Jim Murphy rode ahead, 
close together. Jim was pretty badly scared, and with good reason. 
Sam Bass and Seab Barnes brought up the rear. They said very 
little. Their money was mostly gone now, and Sam was disgusted with 
train-robbery, since it did not even keep a man in spending money! 
Texas was about played out anyhow, so far as Sam Bass was concerned. 
He figured the best thing would be to stick up some small-town bank, 
and then go to Mexico; everything was cheap in Mexico, and they 
could all spend the rest of their lives in peace. .Sam was thinking of 
good old Jack Davis, who had taken his share of the Big Spring loot 
and drifted down into South America. Perhaps Jack had the right 
idea, after all. 

Murphy could not sleep that night. He had no qualms of conscience 
because of his treachery, but he was desperately afraid ' that Seab 
Barnes would kill hint He didn't like the way Barnes was always 
fiddling with his Bowie-knife. The night passed without any further 
difficulty, however. In the morning it was decided to move on to the 
town of Rockwall. There was a nice little bank in Rockwall, said Bass 
with a smile. They did not ride boldly into Rockwall, but camped in a 
clump of trees at the edge of town. Looming up in one of the streets 
was a gallows, which had been built to accomodate a chap who had 
murdered the sheriff a year or two before. It was the first regular 
gallows Sam Bass had ever seen, and he gazed at it soberly for a long 
time. Perhaps he shivered a little. Sam was not without, a degree of 
superstition, and a gallows is not a particularly good omen. 

Barnes went into town and got some canned fruit, cheese and 
crackers at a little store, and they ate dinner at the camp. But Barnes 
didn't like the looks of the gallows either. They decided to give Rockwall 
a wide berth, and did not stop for the night until they reached a 
point three or four miles the other side of town. Next morning they 
i'ode on and camped not far from Terrill, about 40 miles from Dallas. 
At this camlp Barnes came in with some secret news, which he im- 
parted to Sam in a whisper. Somehow Barnes convinced Sam that Jim 
Murphy was an immediate danger, and that the only safe procedure 
was to kill Murphy at once. But Frank Jackson managed to talk them 
out of it, as he had done before. Gard says that this time Jackson 
actually stood with his body between Murphy and the two drawn re- 
volvers, and made a regular speech in Murphy's defence. Murphy was 
sound asleep at the moment, and did not know what was going on until 
the crisis had passed. 

There were two banks in Terrill, and Bass and Jackson rode in to 
look them over. They bought some new clothes and provisions in Terrill, 
but decided against "doin' any business" in the place. Next day they 
came to an inland town called Kaufman City, and this time they all 
rode in. Barnes and Murphy bought some clean clothes here, and they 
all got shaved and ate their dinner in' the hotel diningroom. But there 


was no bank in Kaufman City, and no stores or business houses big 
enough, to be worth robbing. 

They crossed the Trinity River near Trinidad and rode on to a 
place called Ennis. Sami Bass and Jim Murphy went into the town, 
while Jackson and Barnes made camp. The little bank in Ennis did 
not suit Sam. He and Murphy had dinner at the hotel, and then re- 
turned to camp. Next day they all started out for Waco., about 100 
miles south of Dallas. Waco was quite a town in those days, with a 
population of 5,500, and three good banks. 

Jackson and Murphy strode into one of these banks to get change 
for a bill, and Jackson was all for robbing it at once.* He told Sam 
that it would be a push-over, but Murphy was not so enthusiastic. 
Murphy had no chance to write a letter to the Rangers, or even get 
in touch with any local officers. The officers who knew that he was 
a traitor had heard nothing from him, and had no means of finding 
out where he was. He was afraid that the Rangers might think he had 
turned bank-robber in real earnest. Jim had no wish to risk his lift in 
a bank robbery anyhow. So he said that the Waco bank looked like a bad 
job to him, and he thought Sam should go into town and look the situa- 
tion over for himself. 

Next morning Sam Bass and Barnes rode into Waco, and spent 
most of the day in studying the .bank. ' Neither of them could see any- 
thing wrong with it, and they agreed with Jackson in every particular. 
Murphy was in something of a panic. He couldn't back out, and he was 
watched so closely that he could not communicate with the officers. He 
certainly did not want any part of a bank hold-up. Somehow or other, 
probably by playing upon Sam's superstitious belief in dreams and 
"hunches," he persuaded the gang that it would be bad luck to meddle 
with anything in Waco. The thing to do, he told Sam, is to knock off 
some smaller bank, like the one down at Round Rock. 

When the four horsemen set out for Round Rock, Jim Murphy the 
traitor was still in a bad spot. He was afraid the bank at Round Rock 
would be robbed before he could get word to the officers. In despera- 
tion he sold a stolen horse to a crossroads blacksmith, and signed a 
bill-of-sale with his own name, in the hope that it would somehow 
come to the Rangers' attention, thus letting them know his whereabouts. 
Finally Murphy got away from the others long enough to write a letter 
to Major Jones of the Rangers, and another to Sheriff Everheart. In 
these letters he told the officers that Sam Bass, Seab Barnes and Frank 
Jackson were on their way to Round Rock, where they intended to rob 
the bank. Murphy must have got somebody to put these letters in 
the postoffice at Belton, since the postmark shows they were mailed 
there on July 13, 1872. Webb and other writers refer to a rumor that 
Sam Bass caught Murphy mailing the letters, but this seems unlikely. 
If Sam, had seen Murphy mail a letter, he would probably have broken 
into the postoffice then and there. And if he had found a letter ad- 
dressed to Major Jones, it would have been too bad for Jim Murphy. 

Whatever happened in the postoffice that day, ' Sam Bass was 
evidently satisfied that everything was all right, for all four men rode 
on together toward Round Rock. The town originally stood on the 
bank of Brush Creek, just opposite a big white boulder for which the 
place was named. But when the railroad came through in 1876 the 
settlement naturally shifted toward the railroad station, which was set 
on a ridge about a mile from the stream. The village on the * creek 
was called Old Round Rock, while the modern town built along the 


railroad was known as New Round Rock. The four robbers arrived in 
the night, and made camp near a graveyard in the outskirts of Old 
Round Rock. 

Next day Sam and > Jackson rode into Round Rock to look 
over the situation ' at the bank. They returned to camp very enthusiastic 
about the setup. Then Jim Murphy and Barnes went in, and also pro- 
fessed themselves as satisfied. At this time it appears that Barnes 
was finally convinced that Jim Murphy was not a spy at all. He ad- 
mitted as much to Murphy, in the presence of Sam Bass and Jackson. 
So all was peace again in the bandits' camp. They talked the matter 
over and decided to rest in camp for a few days, so as to refresh 
their tired horses. Then they would go into town, rob the bank, and 
hit the trail for Mexico. 

When Major Jones got Murphy's note he was at Austin, busy with 
the trial of Herndon and Pipes. He dropped everything and hurried 
down to Round Rock. He had three Rangers with him — Dick Ware, 
Chris Connor, and George Harrell. Posting these men in a building 
near the bank, he told them to keep out of sight until they saw or 
heard the robbers. Next he sent word to Lieutenant N. C. Reynolds at 
San Saba, ordering Reynolds to bring more Rangers to Round Rock 
at once. This done, he told Deputy Sheriff A. W. Grimes what was 
going on, also another local officer named Albert Highsmith. Then 
Morris Moore, a former Ranger, happened to come along, and Jones 
deputized him too. All of these men lay concealed about town, waiting 
for the bandits to make their first move. 

On the 18th of July, 1878, Jackson rode into town and caught a 
glimpse of a man who looked vaguely like a Ranger. When Bass and 
Barnes heard about this, they slipped into Round Rock and looked 
about carefully, but saw nothing suspicious. They returned to camp and 
said that Jackson must have been mistaken. It was decided to rob the 
bank the following afternoon. The plan was for Sam and Barnes to 
go inside and demand change for a bill. Then Sam was to produce his 
pistol, while Barnes gathered up the money and put it in a sack. Mur- 
phy and Jackson were to stay in the street outside, and not even display 
a weapon unless somebody tried to interfere. 

It was about 4 o'clock the next afternoon when the four horsemen 
rode into Round Rock. Bass, Jackson and Barnes tied their horses in 
the alley, and went to buy some tobacco in a little store near the bank. 
Jim Murphy lagged behind as far as he could, and did not enter the 
store. Deputy Sheriff Grimes did not know any of the robbers by 
sight, but he evidently saw something suspicious in their appearance. He 
sauntered up to Bass, touched him on the shoulder, and said something 
about -"too many pistols." Instantly all three outlaws fired, and Grimes 
fell dead without having even drawn his gun. Morris Moore sprang 
into the doorway and emptied his six-shooter, one of his bullets smashing 
Sam's right hand. Barnes shot Moore through the lungs, disabling him. 

As the three robbers dashed out of the store, Rangers appeared 
and began firing from all directions. Major Jones came running up to 
join in the fight. Many citizens hurried to the scene unarmed, thinking 
that one of the buildings was afire, since a volley of pistol-shots was 
the customary fire-alarm, in those days. Just as the outlaws reached 
their horses somebody shot Seab Barnes through the head. Ranger 
Dick Ware always claimed that his bullet killed Barnes, and Major 
Jones gave him the official credit for the killing. A moment later Sam 
Bass was shot through the body, and fell to his knees. Frank Jackson 


was unhurt, and quite unhurried. He helped Sam to mount, then sprang 
on his own horse, and the two bandits fled toward the camp. Galloping 
f through Old Round Rock they passed Jim Murphy, who sat in the door- 
way of a deserted store building, with his head in his hands. 

The Rangers and the sheriffs, pursued the bandits until darkness 

stopped the chase, but without any luck. They knew that Bass was 

badly hurt, however, and were confident that they could catch Mmr next 

day. So they rode back into Round. Rock, where Jim Murphy had 

'morosely identified the body of Seab Barnes. 

Only three miles away, in a thicket on the bank of Brush Creek, 
Sam Bass lay on the ground.- "It aint no use, Frank," he said to Jack- 
son. "I can't make it no further. You might as well ride on." Jackson 
tried to make Sam comfortable, and bound up the wounds as best he 
could. He tied a horse nearby, too, so that if Sam should get to feeling 
better, there might still be a chance for him t.o escape. The wounded 
bandit fell into a stupor then, and Jackson rode away in the darkness. 

When the Rangers came along next morning they saw a man lying 
under a liveoak tree, at the edge of a little prairie north of town. They 
thought he was a railroad worker and paid no attention, since they did 
not expect to find Bass so near Round Rock. Sam raised his left arm 
as they approached. "Don't shoot," said he. "I'm Sam Bass.'.' They 
took him into town, and got him the best medical attention that was 
available, but it seemed obvious that Sam Bass was dying. 

Major Jones sat beside the bandit for hours, trying to get him to 
talk about his friends and companions, but Sam was wary. He spoke 
freely enough of Joel Collins, Bill Hef fridge, Jim Berry, Seab Barnes 
and others who were -dead. But he had nothing to say about any bandits 
who were still alive. He wouldn't talk even of Jim Murphy the traitor, 
just grinned wolfishly when Murphy's name was mentioned. Finally 
the doctor told Sam that his number was up, and that he could not live 
more than an hour or so. Major Jones made one last plea for informa- 
tion that would lead to the capture of other outlaws. "No, I reckon 
not," said Sam calmly. "It's ag'in my profession for a feller to blow 
on his friends." After a while he added "If a man knows anything, he 
ought to die with it in him." Major Jones said no more, and after a 
pause Sam opened his eyes wonderingly. "The world is a-bobbin' around," 
he sighed. A few minutes later Sam Bass the train-robber was gone. He 
. died July 21, 1878, on his 27th birthday. 

Sam's body was buried in the Round Rock cemetery beside that of 
Seab Barnes. A year or two later Sam's sister Sally came down from 
Indiana and put up a marble tablet, marked with his name and the 
dates of his birth and death. On Barnes' • grave somebody placed a 
rough piece of native stone with the inscription: "Seaborn Barnes, 
Died July 19, 1878. He was right bower to Sam Bass" — a classic in 
frontier epigraphy. 

As for Jim Murphy, the charges against him were dismissed and 
the court restored his bondsmen's money, but Jim seems to have been 
cheated out of his share in the reward. He furnished the material for 
several biographies of Sam Bass, and made a little money in this way. 
But his old friends despised him as a traitor, and the self-respecting 
people of Denton would have nothing to do with him. He, suffered 
from somie sort of. an eye infection, which was evidently painful. He 
used to sit around on the courthouse steps with an old sombrero pulled 
down over his eyes. About a year after the fight at Round. Rock, Jim 
Murphy died of poison administered by his own hand. And most Texans 
thought that it was damned good riddance.